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Miss America 2019 is expected to be the last competition funded in part by subsidies from the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority.



In her first month, Miss America 2019 Nia Franklin — the first “Miss America 2.0” to be crowned — has been on “Good Morning America,” “Live with Kelly and Ryan” and has made public appearances at jewelry stores, the Metropolitan Opera and several keynote speaking events.

But not everything is sparkling within the Miss America Organization.

“I think first and foremost, it’s important to understand that there has been serious concern for this longtime, iconic nonprofit,” said Jennifer Vaden Barth, a former MAO board member now leading the charge to remove chairwoman Gretchen Carlson and CEO Regina Hopper.

It’s not the first time the MAO has been at odds with the loyal stakeholders of Miss America, and it’s the second call for leadership to step down in the past 12 months.

Miss America Cara Mund opens up: 'It's been a tough year'

In December 2017, the MAO dealt with the public ousting of CEO Sam Haskell and several board members over a sexist email scandal. Carlson, Miss America 1989, stepped in to run the organization.

Those closest to the pageant thought the outlook was promising until a number of decisions, including the elimination of the swimwear competition, led to several key stakeholders losing hope in the pageant’s future.

In June, 22 state pageant directors, including New Jersey, signed a “vote of no confidence” letter, citing a lack of transparency with the board of trustees’ actions.

“We need good, strong, ethical management and leadership there, in the right way, working with state and local organizations, and we don’t have that,” said Barth. “All the brand changing in the world can’t change that.”

Can Miss America bounce back after months of controversy?

Disagreements between state directors and national leadership continued throughout pageant season. Board members and national staff left their positions. And more of the behind-the-curtain actions of the MAO were revealed in August when Miss America 2018 Cara Mund penned a letter claiming she was bullied by MAO employees and leadership and felt she was underutilized during her year.

Mund even told CNN there needed to be a leadership change within the MAO.

Her allegations of workplace bullying were investigated by Texas-based human resources consulting firm Employment Practices Solutions. The final report, released the day after the Miss America 2019 pageant, said Mund’s claims were unfounded.

Mund did not respond to requests for further comment on her statements.

The 2019 Miss America Competition continued on, but attracted a smaller audience. The pageant drew 4.3 million viewers, for another year of declining ratings.

“For quite some time, the MAO has had an issue between image, how people perceive them, and identity, who they are,” said Joy A. Jones, assistant professor of business studies at Stockton University and former pageant competitor.

While the MAO looked to change the image of the pageant for those unfamiliar with the modern Miss America, it came at the risk of harming the identity the competition had built over decades.

“It’s extremely detrimental to lose the internal audience. Those involved with the local pageant are the more important audience of an organization,” said Jones.

In the days following the national pageant, Barth put out a call to the thousands of Miss America volunteers with state and local organizations to raise funds for a legal complaint against the MAO.

“The states and locals at the grassroots level, they are the ones — even during the rocky years of the organization — that were keeping Miss America going,” said Barth.

Former Miss Americas stand with Mund after Carlson denies bullying

On Sept. 28, four state pageant licenses were terminated by the MAO. Dozens more, including New Jersey, have been asked to submit reasons why they helped take action, such as signing petitions and making public statements, against the organization.

“Once the state letters came out, we really saw a boost in our funding because people were outraged and shocked that these steps could be taken, mainly because they were asking for good governance and transparency and better business practices,” Barth said.

As of Friday, Barth has raised more than $27,000 and has retained a lawyer to eventually support legal action on behalf of willing state organizations. She said the funds may also be used for necessary public relations services to help restore public trust and respect in the governance of the Miss America Organization.

Miss America 2018 Cara Mund pens letter on being 'silenced'

Carlson and Hopper have given no indications they would be stepping down from their roles with the MAO. Carlson recently took to Twitter, again, to refute claims the MAO is dissolving the state programs.

Adding one final fault line to the MAO structure, the Miss America pageant will no longer receive state funding from the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority. The 2019 competition was the last in a three-year contract with the CRDA, which would provide more than $4 million to cover half of the production costs of the pageant.

Officials have said Miss America can stay in Atlantic City, but not at the current cost to the city.

According to tax filings, the MAO has been operating with a negative net income since 2011, with one exception: 2014 was the only year with a positive net income.

What was supposed to be a year of rebranding and rebirth for Miss America may have turned into the last hurrah for a pageant with no identity, no audience, no money and no faith in leadership.